One of the sunniest fashion boutiques I’ve come across, Mille, owned by Michelle LeBlanc, offers the kind of easy, modern, feminine clothing and accessories from both established and up-and-coming designers that many women crave these days. But unless you visit Minneapolis, where the shop is located, chances are you won’t get to meet Michelle. Luckily Mille has a robust online presence (a major majority of the business), still the site retains small-boutique feel. Michelle likes her fashion with a dose of realism, styling pieces the way she and her friends would wear them. She also has a penchant for resort wear, because it’s always sunny somewhere. Here, Michelle shares her best-sellers, what’s next and the ultimate five Mille items.
What inspired you to open Mille? I had always worked in boutiques. I wanted to open a store, started an online consignment business, then I got pregnant and quit everything for a while. I started writing a blog back in 2007, and thought since I’m writing this I should be getting something out of it. I just started a tiny online store from the blog where I had three brands I sold. It started super small and grew from there.
Every year, we added more brands, and we were shipping out of my house. Then we started to get more home stuff and rugs. I drove past this space one day and thought, we need to probably move out of my house. We moved into our brick and mortar location about five years ago and now it feels like a real store with a full-fledged big business. It’s so nice that it’s grown organically. As my children have gotten older—my youngest is now in kindergarten, I’ve had a lot more time to devote to it. That’s been really great.
How would you describe Mille? Our goal is to find cool brands that are forward but still accessible, things you would want to wear every day and still feel cool. When we’re buying, it’s all about ‘What do we want to wear? What are we looking for?’ We like to travel, so the travel element plays into it a lot. We always like resort wear. So ‘What if we were going Hawaii every week? What would we be wearing to Hawaii or to Costa Rica?’
Your look books are always shot on location—Costa Rica, Mexico. Can you talk about those a little bit? Those started kind of selfishly, I thought ‘How do we get away for a couple of days and tie it in to work things?’ Emily is on staff, she’s our photographer so we started with our friend Mia who models for us and we went to Mexico and shot that. We’ve been to New Orleans and Costa Rica and Merida, and LA. It’s a great way to show, ‘What would our girl wear if she was going to New Orleans for 48 hours or to Costa Rica for 48 hours?’
What do you like about having a store in Minneapolis? Are people fashion forward where you are? We have great customers who have amazing style but 90% of our business is online. Minneapolis is a great place to have a family. My store is in a cute little neighborhood and it’s right by my kids’ school, so that’s the nice thing about having it here. Then the great thing about having it online is that I don’t buy for the weather. We have this great core group of customers here but we have a ton of California business, so we get to order fun warm weather stuff all the time.
How do you think your online business is different from others? We really try to edit our buys down. When we pick up a line, we’re not buying every single piece, we try to pick the pieces that we really love. We are careful with who we choose for models or how we style things, it stays accessible and we don’t try to style it super fashiony. We try to style it, like ‘This is an amazing A Détacher blouse but we’d probably just throw it on with jeans and a cute pair of sandals.’
I hope that it feels kind of personal. We started with my friend Mia who’s not a model and is my age and that was always important to me that our models look somewhat like a cool girl you’d want to hang out with. I think that’s always important to us.
What are some of your best sellers? Any of Ulla Johnson’s cotton dresses, they’re always great sellers. We carry Xirena, their button down shirts just fly out because they’re easy. Kule striped shirts are a best seller, Jesse Kamm pants, her sailor pants. Maryam Nassir Zadeh pumps in lots of fun colors, we sell a ton of those.
What are some favorite new brands or things you have for spring? I’m really excited, we just got in a line called Kamperett out of San Francisco, it’s two women and they are doing really beautiful basics but in a fun pretty way, like paper bag waist pants with body suits and some over-sized dresses…the pieces are really clean but have special details. We picked up Christine Alcalay this season; she did a bunch of beautiful, breezy resort kind of dresses with hibiscus prints. Anaak is another new line for us this year and she’s in Philadelphia and she does, again, lots of beautiful kind of easy dresses in cottons. I think everything should be in cotton. If you do a really good line in cotton, then I’m sold.
How do you discover the brands that you carry? A ton of it through Instagram. That’s usually my social media of choice. And just going to New York or when we’re traveling, going to shops where we travel.
Five items every woman should have in her closet for Spring from Mille: Classic Mille items for spring would be Jesse Kamm pants for sure, and she actually does a slim leg version this time instead of a wide leg. A Maryam Nassir Zadeh pump, in a bright suede. An A Détacher cardigan. A big earring from Annie Costello Brown. Then a Xirena button down. All things that all four of us at work here wear.
Three words that describe you: Laid back, messy, spontaneous.
Three words that describe Mille: Effortless, happy, vacation vibes.
What’s next? We’re working on a rebranding and new website with a really cool design firm in Austin that I’m super excited about. That’s in the works and then in the future, we would love to open maybe a little LA satellite, a little New York satellite, but what I really want to do is some far flung hotel satellite stores. I think would be really fun.
Any places on your wish list? I love the Harmony Hotel in Costa Rica or I love Hotel Esencia in Mexico, any of like the Bunkhouse hotels in Austin. Something with a good design. I feel like that’s such an underserved sort of market. But it’s not at all in the works, I’m just putting it out there into the universe.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: Anything Gucci. I bought a couple pairs of loafers this fall and I definitely feel like I wear them every day.
Favorite small indulgence? Drinking rose water. I make it. We have these rose water drops at the store from Australia and we add it to our water.
Album currently on repeat: Still Lemonade.
Scent that brings back memories: Creosote. My friend’s mom lives in Arizona and she always brings me a bundle of it back. I grew up around the Southwest so it smells like my childhood.
Lucky charm: My daughters.
Favorite hour of the day: Dusk because it seems peaceful and it’s a good time to drink wine.
Follow Shop Mille: Instagram.